On Oct. 18, I attended the Homegoing Service of my brother-in-law, Willie James Ferrell. Willie was 87, had known his wife Willamae since she was 14, had a loving family and lots of friends. I expected this service to be an emotional one. However, the majority of those attending were composed and my sister managed to handle her loss well.
It was a celebration of the man rather than a somber service. My brother-in-law was known as a “jokester,” someone with a great sense of humor who thought out of the box. Willie Ferrell often mentioned how corny it was to attend a funeral and the deceased would be viewed wearing a suit, tie, shoes and even glasses. My brother-in-law would indicate that it appeared that the deceased was dressed to go to work. So, Willie, in all seriousness, requested to be dressed for his viewing in pajamas, a robe and slippers. The family granted his wish. Several speakers thought that this was unusual and a first for them but quite appropriate. The soloist indicated that he had made a note of this and wanted to be viewed at his funeral in similar attire.
Speakers that provided remembrances were on point. Three of Willie Ferrell’s sons that paid tribute to their father said he was a strong disciplinarian. Remarks by Willie’s oldest son, Terryl, serve as the impetus for today’s column.
Terryl told a story of how, at 17, he arrived home at 2 a.m., two hours after his curfew. As he crept up the stairs to his bedroom, he encountered his father sitting, in the dark, at the top of the stairs. As his father confronted him about coming home well after his midnight rule, Terryl pushed by his father while giving him one of those hand waves that signaled that he should be left alone and that it was none of his father’s business. According to Terryl, the next thing he knew, his father’s hands were on his collar and he was pushed up against the wall. His father admonished him never to disrespect him again and according to Terryl, that was the last time. Terryl believed that his father was like his paternal grandfather, Willie Ferrell Sr., his maternal grandfather, Willie Kittrels, his uncles Walter “Bubbles” Montague and Richard Matthews.
They were fathers, that instilled in their children the significance and importance of discipline. As Terryl said, “they do not make men like them today.” I would add that there are no men like his grandfathers and uncles around, like back in the day.
Tributes from the Ferrell brothers resurrected many memories of how fathers administered discipline, back in the day. As they spoke, my mind reflected on the news we read in the newspapers, hear on the radio and see on television daily. This news details the horrific behavior by our youth, both in the streets and at home.
While everyone has their thoughts about ways of addressing today’s problems, I have no doubt that strong fathers who believe in discipline, oldfashioned discipline, in particular, can go a long way toward responsible behavior in children.
It was not just the hard lessons that the Ferrell boys spoke about and internalized, under the thumb of their father with the aid of his belt, it was the other things that many of us used to do but have stopped doing in recent years. Son LaMonte shared that the neighbors referred to their family as “The Black Brady Bunch.” He pointed out that they were given this label because they ate dinner together religiously at 6 p.m. each day. Some of you can relate to the days when it was mandatory to have dinner as a family at a specific time as well as doing many other things as a family: church, movies, cookouts and even watching television.
Whatever happened to those days? In speaking of his father’s frankness, Terryl said his father pulled no punches. He recalled coming home from shopping one day with a new leather coat. He was proud of his purchase and while showing it to his father, he was asked how much did it cost. “One hundred dollars,” was Terryl’s response. Consistent with his frankness his father replied that his coat was not leather but vinyl. Willie Ferrell’s words rang out loud and clear, “Son, they got you!”
Another son spoke about his father and his name. While his mother named him LaMonte, his father told his mother that he would never refer to him by this name and never did. Throughout his life, LaMonte was called Francois, his middle name, by his father. The entire church congregation laughed as LaMonte talked about how his father, in his usual joking manner, had caused him to miss out on many relationships. Whenever he brought a young lady to his home to visit, his father would always greet the young lady with, “Hello Margaret,” before LaMonte could introduce her by her real name. LaMonte would correct his father by providing the young lady’s correct name. His father would simply indicate, in the presence of his date, that LaMonte brings so many young ladies to their home until he gets confused.
Then, there was his son, Stephen. Consistent with Willie Ferrell’s belief in hard work and ownership or management wherever he or his sons worked, Stephen joined his father in owning and operating Ferrell’s Franks in the old Gallery for more than 10 years. In fact, it was Stephen who coined the slogan of Ferrell’s Franks, “The only dog you would want to bite.” So, with discipline, humorous behavior, doing things as a family and insisting on hard work by his sons, Willie Ferrell instilled in his sons a way of life that children are missing out on today as this type of lifestyle has been relegated to a way of life of the past.
Think about how things were in our homes in the past. I mentioned how the Ferrells had dinner each day at 6 p.m. Well, dinner was not just dinner. Dinner was complete with the family’s favorite foods and desserts such as cakes, pies and strawberry-filled cupcakes that were always prepared by Willie Ferrell’s wife. It was interesting to learn from his sons that dinner had one trait that separated their father from the other family members; perhaps this was the case for your family meals of the past. You see, everyone ate on paper plates except his father; his meal had to be served on china. While strong discipline can create hard feelings on the part of family members, it obviously worked in the opposite manner for the Ferrell family. For Willie Ferrell so loved his sons and his sons so loved him, until they created their own holiday a few years ago. It was Willie Ferrell that created “sons’ day.” So, while Willie James Ferrell is no longer with them, they will continue to observe and celebrate “sons’ day” in honor of the legacy established by their father. Obviously, this column was personal for me, given that it focused on my own family: my sister, her late husband and their sons. Hopefully it will serve to inspire some of you, in particular our young folk to borrow a page out of Willie James Ferrell’s playbook and behave as men in the tradition of Black fathers, back in the day.